My flight from Warsaw to New York was delayed by about two and a half hours. Rather than boarding at 11:45, we ended up waiting until 2:30. Another TLG volunteer and I passed the time in the airport lounge, chatting for a while, then doing our own thing – mostly, she read a collection of Feynman works while I napped. At 2:20, as I groggily collected myself to go to the gate, my friend observed that the sun was setting.
I had noticed the odd light in the terminal – the sunlight coming in at what I thought was a really weirdly low angle for mid-afternoon – but had dismissed it as some architectural oddity in the airport (don’t ask me how my underslept travel-brain came to this conclusion) until she mentioned that the sun was actually setting. There it was, 2:30 pm, and the sun was floating eerily just above the horizon.
Of course, December 20th is pretty close to the shortest day of the year, and Warsaw is about 800 miles north of New York (and Tbilisi) which is what I’m accustomed to in terms of solar cycles. Being in Warsaw – flat, cold, hazy Warsaw with its short winter days – I could imagine life in the Arctic Circle. It was a haunting thought – so little light and so much darkness.
The plane taxied across one of Chopin’s two intersecting runways, and paused as another plane touched down on the runway we had just crossed. As our plane came around, the sun came into view – now a distant red ball ducking behind some low-lying clouds way off to the southwest. By the time we took off, it had half set, but as our plane gained altitude we could see the entire sun again.
And that was where the sunset remained – just off the port bow – for the next seven hours.
Most sunsets don’t last seven hours – unless maybe you live in the Arctic Circle, where for that part of the year you live in perpetual sunset, sunset for days. I wonder how beautiful it would be to have sunset for days.
As for my sunset – I think it was prettiest just over the UK, when the cloud cover resting over Europe broke and the golden-red light became pure and almost liquid.
By the time we hit the east coast of North America, the sky was pitch black. We could see lights on the ground coming from small Canadian villages. When we finally reached New York, the city seemed almost unimaginably vast – so many lights, all spread out over an area much larger than Tbilisi – lights which never really struck me as unusual until I witnessed how dark the rest of the world can be – lights arranged in grids and lines that are deeply comforting to a mathematical mind like mine. In New York City, the sky was dark by the time we showed up, at 6:30 pm – but New York City is never truly dark.
Today is the shortest day of the year, and in New York City, it’s raining. That means no sunset today, but that’s okay – I got more than my fair share last night.
Video: Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown